HomeAsian AmericansPurdue Northwest Chancellor who mocked Asian languages goes on sabbatical

Purdue Northwest Chancellor who mocked Asian languages goes on sabbatical


by Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor

Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Thomas Keon, who mocked Asian languages during a graduation address in 2022, has gone on sabbatical.

As of January 8, 2024, Kenneth C. “Chris” Holford is the new chancellor of Purdue University Northwest. Tim Doty, Senior Director of Media and Public Relations at Purdue, confirmed Keon’s sabbatical in email correspondence with AsAmNews. The former chancellor was originally meant to stay on until June.

Keon made national news in December 2022 after doing a racist impression of Asian languages during Purdue University Northwest’s winter commencement ceremony. 

Before Keon’s remarks, radio host James Dedelow gave a graduation speech where he mentioned a made-up language he used to speak with his family. After Dedelow’s remarks, Keon approached the podium.

“Well, all I can say is,” Keon said before making several random noises, seemingly referencing Dedelow’s made-up language.

He then added with a laugh, “That’s sort of my Asian version of his.”

The viral videos of Keon’s comments sparked outrage across the nation. Keon issued an apology, stating that he was “truly sorry for my unplanned, off-the-cuff response to another speaker, as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger.” 

Many faculty members, Asian American groups and their allies called for Keon to resign. However, in April 2023, the university decided to allow Keon to serve his full term, which would end in June 2024, before finding his replacement.

The decision was meant with fervent objections.

“This decision by a privileged few to protect one of their own further alienates members of our minority communities,” Thomas J. Roach, the Purdue University Northwest Faculty Senate Chair at the time, said in a statement sent to AsAmNews in April. “I hope it is clear to everyone that the board’s decision in no way reflects the wishes of the majority of faculty on the Purdue campuses.”

But, earlier this year, Keon went on sabbatical. He is no longer the chancellor at Purdue University Northwest but it is unclear whether he is receiving a full or partial salary as part of his sabbatical.

A December 2023 press release, announcing Chris Holford as the next chancellor contains zero mentions of Keon. The university confirmed Keon’s sabbatical to AsAmNews but would not comment further or reveal any more details about the nature of his departure.

David Nalbone, the current Purdue University Northwest Faculty Senate Chair, told AsAmNews in an email that he hopes the university start undoing some of the damage Keon caused.

“It is hoped that we can start to undo some of the reputational damage his actions caused to PNW, and to rebuild trust with those (particularly Asian) communities most affected by his careless remarks,” he wrote.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


  1. Not a complete victory… He stayed a year longer than he should’ve… But the nationwide calls for his firing may have had a small role to play in this racist chancellor’s departure.


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